All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." - Charles M. Schulz
Valentine’s Day in Japan is very unique! It is rather a one-sided affair, where only women give chocolates to men.
One would think that as Japanese women are basically shy, Valentine's Day may be the perfect opportunity for them to express their love. However, in reality, it is just a custom created by smart chocolate companies, to grab the attention of the gullible Japanese consumers and boost their sales. Fact sheets reveal that chocolate companies in Japan sell more than half of their annual sales up until Valentine's Day.
No sooner does the calendar flip over to the month of February, department stores, grocery stores and convenient stores in Japan, display attractively packaged chocolates, cookies and cakes in large varieties to attract customers.
On Valentine’s Day, Japanese women give mainly two kinds of chocolates to men;
"Honmei-choko" or Chocolate for their true love"
"Giri-choko" or obligatory chocolate, which is given to bosses, colleagues or male friends, without any sort of romantic feeling involved! Rather, it is given in gratitude for a favor taken or for friendship.
"Giri" in Japanese means “Obligation”. It is a Japanese custom of mutual obligation. If someone does you a favor, you feel obligated to return the favor!! No matters of the heart involved here!
Special chocolates bought for boyfriends, lovers or husbands are often given with other gifts such as neckties, scarfs and clothes. Some young women even go out of their way to prepare homemade chocolates or cakes, to express their love and care for their man.
Women may buy 10, 20 or even 30 boxes of Giri Choco, to distribute at their workplaces, every year. The price of giri choco may cost several hundred yen while honmei choco may well be several thousand yen
An interesting twist to this custom is that, Japanese men who receive chocolates on Valentine’s Day (giri or otherwise), are supposed to return the same or other gifts to women, a month after Valentines Day, called "White Day" (March 14th), which again is a marketing strategy put forth by the Japanese chocolate companies since the 1960s. Men are expected to return a more expensive box of chocolate or gifts on White Day, which carries a higher price tag than the gifts they recieve from women.
However, over the years, other new Valentine's Day customs have evolved in Japan such as:
"Gyaku-choco" (reverse chocolate)" ;chocolates given by men to women.
"Tomo-choco " (friendship chocolate)" ; popular among Japanese girls, given to their friends.
“Jiko choco” (chocolate for oneself): women buy very expensive chocolates to cheer themselves up.
On a personal note, I hope the custom of “giri choco” eventually disappears in Japan as love can never be a mere obligation!! We must give because we "Want to" and not because we "Have to"!!
When love is not madness, it is not love. ~Pedro Calderon de la Barca